From the high school machinations of Mean Girls to the fairy tale spectacle of Frozen, there has been no shortage of screen-to-stage productions opening on Broadway this year. But one managed to steal our hearts the most: SpongeBob SquarePants.
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David Zinn, the set and costume designer for the show, created the innovative look of the production by honoring the spirit of the original cartoon without taking it too literally. “Once we gleaned the main rules, we veered pretty far from it visually,” says Zinn. “In terms of influences, we referenced this sort of ’60s beach culture viewed through an ’80s sensibility. It was all about achieving beauty through a fun sensibility and simple materials.”
We got Zinn to walk us through some of his designs for the show.
“He’s square and yellow, with big eyes. At the very first workshop, about six years ago, we tried to capture his sculptured-ness, but that got too literal and not interesting,” says Zinn, noting that the main character’s costume went through the most changes. “At one point, he had square yellow hair and a sailor hat. It just became clear that we could do less and less. Ethan Slater’s great. Ultimately, we kept paring things away to just let him shine.”
Squidward’s eight tentacles—he’s an octopus in the TV show—are represented by an extra pair of sea-foam–green legs that are sewn onto the costume. We just thought [the extra legs] were a fun world of possibility,” says Zinn. “When we got Gavin [Lee], an incredible tap dancer, into the role, he really explored what he could do with the simple technology of a pair of legs hanging from his waist.”
The whimsical, eye-popping set for SpongeBob’s undersea hometown is defined by a number of highly complex, Rube Goldberg–like contraptions. “I was thinking of a life-size Mouse Trap game and that amazing OK Go video [“This Too Shall Pass”] for the set, so I knew how it needed to live visually. But we had to bring in some actual Rube Goldberg engineers to design it. We were all very excited to find out that that’s an actual job.”